We Met with the Local Golf Course Superintendents

By George Powell and Eleanor Ward

On April 10, members of the Watershed Action Group (WAG) and other members of Watershed Trust met with area golf course superintendents to discuss issues around water quality of local streams running through golf courses. Seven golf course superintendents and two representatives of the Canadian Golf Superintendents Association joined 10 Watershed Trust members.

After introductions and discussing the Agenda, the Trust emphasized that the golf courses in our area are in compliance with the current pesticide legislation. The Integrated Pest Management (IPM) Annual Report for Golf Course Class 9 Pesticide use for 2017 was central to the discussion. The Trust provided a PowerPoint Presentation documenting watershed concerns. The report and the presentation will be posted on the Trust’s website.

George Powell of the WAG committee outlined the various impacts and concerns about water quality: suspended solids; nutrients (Phosphorus and nitrogen cause algal growth); benthic macro-invertebrates (the more variety and greater the number, the healthier the stream); temperature (only cold water supports trout and salmon fisheries); invasive species (Phragmites chokes out native vegetation); pesticides (class 9 toxic chemicals harmful to fishery and wildlife); buffers (a protective feature); and legislation (which WT considers flawed) .

Don Kerr, member of WAG and our Board of Directors, outlined the legislative issues. We need a Provincial Water Quality Objective (PWQO) for all Class 9 Pesticides (some pesticides in regular use don’t have known safe amounts and such pesticides should be prohibited until a PWQO is assigned.) There should be certified laboratories capable of testing for Class 9 Pesticides (there are no tests for some pesticides). Such pesticides should be prohibited until the concentration in runoff waters can be measured.

Golfers Don’t Seem to Care

WAG member Leah Hagreen raised the issue of increasing the size of buffers as one of the ways in which golf courses could mitigate the impact of class 9 pesticides. The superintendents appreciated our concerns but said they are subject to their owners’ and members’ demands for a high standard of attractive turf and this they feel cannot be achieved without using pesticides and fertilizers. They reported that efforts to increase buffers draw complaints from golf club members about long grass.

All present agreed we need labs that can measure ppm of pesticides. Jason Honeyball, superintendent of Osler Brook golf course, does his own monitoring of pesticide residue and, as a result, has reduced use of class nine pesticides.

Honeyball says 70 percent of golf courses have good neighbour agreements, responding to concerns of owners of adjacent properties.

They are all watching and mindful of The Vineyard Golf Club on Martha’s Vineyard in the U.S. that uses organic pesticides. Honeyball says many golf course superintendents are starting to use mineral oils and other organic plant defences. He recently purchased a roller, which the Vineyard Golf Club recommends to make grasses more disease resistant. Honeyball adds that the golf industry is beginning to promote a “brown” movement, trying to increase acceptance of grass that’s not lush and green all the time.

We discussed the Integrated Pest Management public meetings held by golf courses to keep the public informed. The superintendents said the meetings are very poorly attended. Owners of neighbouring residences, golf course members and the public rarely come.

We reported that our latest correspondence from Dr. Tareq Al-Zabet, Assistant Deputy Minister of MOECC’s Environmental Sciences and Standards Division, has at least recognized our concerns. Al-Zabet indicated the Ministry’s agreement to conduct a formal review by summer 2018 of the need for routine monitoring of Class 9 pesticides in watercourses flowing from golf courses. He also indicated willingness to review the need for timelier reporting of Class 9 pesticide use by golf courses.

Best Management Practices are in place for most of the area golf courses. “Best Management Practices and Guidelines for the Development and Review of Golf Course Proposals,” prepared for the Muskoka Golf Course Research Advisory Committee by Gartner Lee Limited, revealed that very few of our area golf courses meet the recommended buffers around watercourses. The document recommends specific buffer widths, for example, 127 m for rare wetland nesting birds sensitive to humans and machinery, 50 to 100 m for sensitive animals in forest interior, 200 m for nesting Great Blue Herons, 100 m for feeding herons.

The wide range of recommended buffer strips shows the necessity of understanding the specific wetland attributes and functions that must be protected in the design phase. A 50 m buffer strip would appear to represent an effective average buffer width for wetland protection on the shield. A 30 m buffer would be adequate for protection of wetland water quality but buffers in excess of 100 m may be warranted in specific cases.

Recommendations for follow up:

  • Continue to pressure the MOECC with respect to Class 9 Pesticides being applied that do not have safe water quality concentrations or cannot be measured by certified MOECC laboratories.
  • Contact the MOECC in the summer of 2018 to see if there has been progress in requiring routine monitoring of pesticides in the surface and groundwater discharging from golf courses.
  • Communicate our concerns to the area golf courses, IPM and regulatory agencies. Continue to meet with area golf course owners and superintendents to keep the dialogue going.